I’ve been ordering more stuff from Amazon and other on-line marketers these days. We’re in what retailers might call a “shopping desert”, with limited shopping alternatives within a half-hour’s drive, and I’ve discovered that rather than settling for what’s available in local stores I can often find a much better selection on line. Last month after stopping at the four stores in “The Burg” that sell men’s athletic shoes I went online and found just what I wanted on EBay for about half what I’d have paid even if one of the local stores had what I wanted. Amazon recently bought the Whole Foods market chain, causing great angst among the other supermarket chains. Will Whole Foods start home delivery? How will “traditional supermarkets react?

Even if Amazon changes the food shopping experience it’s simply one more step in what’s been happening to “the retail experience”. The corner grocery store has all but disappeared from many towns, replaced by an A & P supermarket which in turn was replaced by a Super Walmart.

How about agricultural retailing? Certainly there have been changes but for the most part farm supplies–farm equipment, feed, seed, fertilizer–are still sourced locally or regionally. One of the big changes in the Northeast is that there used to be an Agway store in almost every farming town of any significance. For instance,during the 1970s there were about 400 dairy farms in Clinton County and six Agway stores. When the Agway stores disappeared, in most cases nothing replaced them and farmers had to drive somewhat further for supplies but this was long before “the Internet way of things”. Now farmers can order seed and pesticides on-line but few choose to do so. Personal service is still important in the farm community. A silage inoculant company I’ve worked with has a two-price structure: One price for the inoculant drop-shipped to the farm with no service included, a slightly higher price for the same product but backed up by a knowledgeable sales representative who’ll follow up with the farmer if there are problems. The rep told me that most of his clients are willing to pay a bit more for the technical support.

Posted by Ev, filed under Uncategorized. Date: October 6, 2017, 3:52 pm | No Comments »

I’m often asked via email what to do about a particular situation, usually something that has gone wrong or is about to. Unless I know the farmer (not just as an email correspondent, but actually having been on the fellow’s farm) I’m sometimes hesitant to make recommendations. Oh, I usually do but I try to cover my butt via an assortment of precautions and caveats about the influence of weather, etc. That’s because some farmers can take a difficult situation and make something good out of it, while others can start with almost ideal conditions and figure out a way to screw things up. But unless I know the farmer I don’t know on which side of the good farmer/bad farmer continuum he sits. Most are somewhere in the middle, fortunately.

Much of the success and failure in farming has to do with timing: It doesn’t cost any more to plant corn in May than in June, nor to harvest first cut alfalfa in late May vs. well into June, but the impact on farm economics are often huge. Sometimes a farmer is so late that he accidentally is on time–sort of like a stopped clock being right twice a day. A spring seeding delayed long enough becomes a late summer seeding. I well recall a farmer who never seemed to do anything on time planning on planting a triticale-field pea mixture. This mixture should be planted in early spring because peas like cool, moist conditions. Of course the farmer missed the ideal time, then it was time to plant corn (late, of course), and by then his first cut alfalfa was in full bloom, gotta do something about that, and before he knew it the calendar had rolled around to August and all those bags of triticale-field peas were still sitting in the shed.

The farmer decided to scrape the worst of the pigeon poop off his grain drill and finally plant. Fortunately he didn’t ask me before doing so because I’d have told him to hang wait until next spring. Fortunate for me, because after planting we got a stretch of unusually cool, wet weather and then more cool weather heading into fall with plenty of moisture. Both triticale and peas germinated and grew just fine, and by normal corn silage harvest time–much to the amazement of his neighbors (and me)–he had a great crop. A crop that he harvested at about the same time others were chopping corn since his June-planted corn crop was just a bit late in maturing. Funny how that sometimes works out… Now I could have tried explaining to the farmer that he was just lucky and shouldn’t make August planting of tritical-peas an annual event, but do you think he would have listened? Me neither.

Posted by Ev, filed under Uncategorized. Date: September 12, 2017, 12:58 pm | No Comments »

A few weeks ago while on my daily walk I came upon a huge mama snapping turtle in the middle of the road. She’s no stranger around here since each year in early summer she leaves her river home in search of a sandy place to lay her eggs. A motorist stopped and between the two of us we were able to move her well off the road. If she appreciated our efforts she certainly didn’t show it.

This reminded me of another turtle incident many years ago when I worked for Cornell University as a regional field crops specialist. Every once in a while I’d find a turtle in the road, usually a painted turtle, Chrysemys picta. I’d stop my car and move the turtle off the road, preferably into a nearby water body. This day I found a painted turtle in the middle of busy NY Rte. 37. I picked it up and looked for a good release site but couldn’t see anything nearby. So I put it on the floor of my car, knowing that in that area Rte. 37 adjoins the St. Lawrence River and there’d soon be a good place to release the little feller. Or gal.

I found just such a spot, pulled off the road, and…no turtle. But no turtle, no problem, it probably just crawled under the seat. I then did a thorough search of under the seat, and the floor of the back seat: No turtle. The floor of the car was carpeted, and the carpet provided enough purchase for the turtle to have crawled up into the dashboard! (Have I mentioned that the car was owned by Cornell University?) I had visions of a dead turtle rotting away somewhere up in the far reaches of the dashboard, and how I’d explain this to the manager at the Cornell fleet garage. I was already on informal probation there because of an unfortunate incident involving stopping at the garage with a car full of diseased corn stalks. My search therefore became somewhat desperate.

Have you ever laid on your back on the floor of the front seat with your butt pressed against the seat, peering up into the myriad of wires and mysterious components? Neither had I, and I don’t recommend it. I found the turtle, which had gone about as far as it could without peeking its head out of a defroster vent. In trying to fetch the turtle it seemed like it had at least eight legs, each one wrapped around a wire. Painted turtles are usually quite docile but the failed escape attempt had left it in a bad mood, to be matched by my own especially after it let loose with a torrent of turtle pee. But all’s well that ends well, and the turtle did get released into the river with a story to tell its offspring.

Posted by Ev, filed under Uncategorized. Date: August 7, 2017, 9:13 pm | No Comments »

01  Jul
Inundated

Oh, dear, I let the entire month of June slip away without writing a blog, unintentional but there was so little good to write about anyway. As my grandfather used to say about people he didn’t care for who had left (either temporarily or permanently): “I’ll miss him but it will be a $#&@ good miss.” I feel the same way about June, which didn’t slip away as much as it washed away, not only here at Oak Point but for much of NY State and New England as well. Some areas got their entire average June rainfall in a matter of hours, literally: One farmer in Western NY told me that they got 3.65″ of rain in 2 hours, resulting in severe soil erosion in corn fields where there wasn’t a good residue cover. The rain came early and often, far in excess of normal in April, May and June. Here at Oak Point we had over 15″ of precipitation for these three months, and the St. Lawrence River is setting records that have stood for over 100 years.

In the ten days I’ve driven to Ithaca and Syracuse and never saw any corn that was as much as a foot tall. Soybeans were similarly far behind in development. I read where a majority of corn in the region was planted after June 1st and can well believe it. Since then we’ve had about three inches of rain and several days where the temperatures struggled to reach 70F.

A good growing season–or even a normal one–separates the good crop managers from the bad. Given half a chance the good ones get stuff done on time while others are still thinking about it, trying to remember if they ordered those corn planter parts last year. But a spring (and now early summer) like this one affects all farmers, the good and the not-so-good. And as one who provides crop management advice to farmers, my phone and email inbox have been unusually idle during the past month or so. There are few decisions to be made when a farmer can’t get on even his best-drained cropland.

Hope I’m wrong but I see little chance that corn planted in mid-June will make decent silage by late September, especially since I suspect that many farmers didn’t switch to earlier-maturity hybrids. Late-planted corn usually “catches up” somewhat to that planted earlier and of course we’ll be hoping for a late frost. But so much of the corn I’ve been looking at is not only way behind in development but all the rain we got in the past week or so will drown some of it. Any preplant nitrogen fertilizer has almost certainly been leached past the root zone, and unless we get a good stretch of dry weather soon it will be tough to apply sidedress N to these waterlogged fields. Farmers who put up enough corn silage in 2016 to last into early 2018 should be really glad they did because this is looking like a really rotten year for corn.

Posted by Ev, filed under Uncategorized. Date: July 1, 2017, 2:01 pm | No Comments »

The title isn’t a typo or misspelling: With all the rain and cold weather farmers are pacing the floor waiting and hoping for some break in the weather, wearing out shoe leather in the process. And these conditions apparently prevail far west of here, right through much of the Midwest.Areas of Minnesota had snow last week, one area had a crust of frost on recently-planted corn. Out there what appeared to be an early spring quickly turned into a cold, wet one, while spring is very slow in coming here in the Northeast. Some corn has been planted on gravel ground but I’m not sure I’d be happy about that. This may be the year when some farmers learn what “chilling injury” to germinating corn is all about. That’s when the combination of excessive rain and cold conditions kills corn before it has a chance to emerge.

The current situation is a reminder that even though climate change has resulted in a measurably longer growing season, we haven’t become immune to cold, wet springs. However, it’s not as important when you start corn planting as when you finish, and you shouldn’t be in a hurry to “mud in” corn in the next week or so, especially if when conditions are right you can complete corn planting in about two weeks. I’d much rather see corn planting start on May 20-25 and end two weeks later than to plant into cold, wet soils a week or more before that and suffer poor germination. Starting in late May certainly isn’t ideal, but nothing about this year is so far. And I wouldn’t switch to sudan-sorghum hybrids until after mid-June. An 80-RM corn hybrid planted on June 15 will almost always outyield sudan-sorghum.

Another challenge is winter rye and triticale planted last fall that’s getting ready to harvest. Quality will probably be down because of all the cloudy weather, and it’s going to be tough to get the crop dry. My preference would be to chop the same day it’s mowed, even if it’s on the wet side, using wide windrows. Consider a slightly longer chop length in an effort to reduce effluent production. Butyric acid production isn’t nearly the problem when the crop is mowed and chopped the same day as it is when the drop sits overnight in the windrow.

Hang in there–mother said there’d be days like this.

Posted by Ev, filed under Uncategorized. Date: May 2, 2017, 1:22 pm | No Comments »

10  Apr
Stuck

April–what some farmers call “mud season” in the North Country. During the 15 years I worked for Cornell Cooperative Extension I spent most of my time “out and around” making farm visits. This meant finding the farmer wherever he was at the time, often out in the field. Early on I decided that getting stuck in the mud would be a waste of time so I was very cautious as to where I drive the company car. The head of Cornell University’s fleet garage was a piece of work, and I sure didn’t want to bring a car back to the university with the undercarriage coated with mud. So I often would walk back to a field instead of driving down a muddy farm road.

I got stuck exactly twice in those 15 years, and in both cases with the farmer in the passenger seat telling me “Oh, you can drive down here, it’s OK.” Obviously, it was not. In one case the farmer told me to drive down what appeared to be a slightly muddy slope. I said “Are your sure?” He said “No problem.”. I started down the slope, and about halfway down he said “Maybe that’s far enough.” “I stopped back up there a ways–we’re sliding.” And we did, all the way to the bottom of the slope. He wasn’t upset, obviously had been stuck many times before, and hiked back to the farm, returning with a big John Deere tractor to haul me back up the hill.

I also got stuck twice in the 30 years I worked at Miner Institute, in both cases nobody’s fault but my own. The ribbing I took from the “Crops Crew” in hauling my car out of the mud was enough punishment that both times were early on in my career there.

One warm, sunny spring day a farmer on his way to town drove past a field and saw a tractor in a field near the road with a man lying under the tractor. He wasn’t moving, and the farmer feared the worst. He got out of his pickup and ran into the partly plowed field, yelling “Are you OK?” The man quickly sat up, forgetting that he was lying under the tractor, whacked his head on the undercarriage, flattening him again. He rolled out from under the tractor, rubbing his head with a sheepish smile. “Got sleepy and thought I’d take a nap in the shade.” You’d have to know the sleepy fellow to truly appreciate this story…

Posted by Ev, filed under Uncategorized. Date: April 10, 2017, 12:35 pm | No Comments »

02  Mar
Amazing stuff

I just watched a presentation by Cornell University entomologist Elson Shields which included the progress being made in controlling field crop insect pests with “friendly” nematodes. When most farmers think if nematodes it’s the species that are plant pests. but these nematodes only attack beetle larvae. Cornell has been working for years now on developing species of nematodes that control alfalfa snout beetle, a devastating alfalfa pest for which there’s no chemical control. That project is going well, but now they’re looking at the possibility that the same friendly nematodes may also kill corn rootworm larvae. So far the results are encouraging–but preliminary. This is potentially a very big deal, for two reasons:

1. While alfalfa snout beetles are only a known problem in a handful of upstate NY counties, corn rootworms are very widespread.
2. The problem with rootworms genetically resistant to the Bt traits found in corn hybrids continues to get worse, with no sign that plant breeders will overcome the resistance problem.

It’s still early and Dr. Shields is being very cautious about claiming a breakthrough, but this is a topic well worth following as research continues.

Posted by Ev, filed under Uncategorized. Date: March 2, 2017, 5:09 pm | No Comments »

03  Feb
Twain was wrong

One of Mark Twain’s more famous sayings:”What gets us into trouble is not what we don’t know. It’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so”. However amusing I think this isn’t true, at least not entirely, as I often encounter questions begging for answers–and not knowing these answers can lead to problems. I’ve often thought: “Gee, I wish I was still working at Miner Institute and had a graduate student available to explore this area.” Graduate students can be terrific resources to thoroughly examine issues and questions that are bugging their professor or supervisor.

In agriculture in general (and forage production in particular) there are a lot of questions just begging for answers: How well will the various cool grass species persist when harvested along with reduced-lignin alfalfa when the alfalfa is in the bud stage? Will reduced-lignin alfalfa stand up better during adverse conditions (wind, wet) when grown with a forage grass vs. in monoculture? If so, are there some grasses that will work better with the new alfalfa genetics? How much differently will BMR corn perform vs. conventional corn when grown in narrow rows? How reliable are university corn hybrid trials involving only two rows of each hybrid? Do differences in plant height affect the performance of the various hybrids in these trials? How has climate change affected crop production practices–we know some of the impacts but not others–and there’s no question that the length of the growing season has increased. Are there crops we should be considering now that we didn’t twenty years ago? Lots of questions, not nearly enough answers.

Posted by Ev, filed under Uncategorized. Date: February 3, 2017, 3:26 pm | No Comments »

I’ve been a lucky guy during my long career as a crop consultant, visiting many countries with various political systems including communism, socialism and varying degrees of capitalism. About a dozen nations in all so far, not counting a bunch of Caribbean Islands The Bride and I have visited on our several cruises. Some trips have been more enjoyable than others, but all have left me realizing once again that the U.S. agricultural system is the best in the world. While government support of agriculture has stagnated–perhaps even declined–over the years the formal linkage between USDA and Land Grant College research, State, regional and county-based Extension education systems and the end users (farmers and agribusiness professionals) is unmatched.

The internet brings the world closer, but to really experience it first-hand you need to “get out and around”, even if that only means the other side of this nation. Late each winter Miner Institute made trip to the Western U.S. with a group of college students as a part of their curriculum. We include an eclectic group of Institute staff, farmers and agribusiness professionals who pay their own way. One time we were headed to California and one of the dairy farmers by his own admission had “no life” outside his farm. He was a top-notch manager–still is for that matter–but his life revolved around his cows. He made the trip with a bit of trepidation, thinking that there was no way a dairy in the Northeast could compete economically with the huge dairies of the Southwest. What he found–to his surprise and delight–is that while the western dairies were impressive there were (are) advantages that well-managed dairies in the Northeastern U.S. have. He told me that it was an eye-opening experience, one he treasured. That was his first “big trip” but his appetite was whetted and it wasn’t his last.

The 50th anniversary of World Ag Expo–one of the stops when the Miner Institute contingent travels to California–will be held this year on February 14-16 in Tulare, California. For more information:
https://www.worldagexpo.com/2013-world-ag-expo

There are two huge dairy buildings and 1500 exhibits on 60 acres of exhibit area showing the diversity of agriculture for which California is famous. Easy access from one of the big West Coast airports and right next to a major north-south highway. It’s certainly worth a visit, but plan for more than one day at the show–it’s that big. Hey–if not now, when?

Posted by Ev, filed under Uncategorized. Date: January 3, 2017, 5:50 pm | No Comments »

01  Dec
Venting

I don’t know whether I feel ornery enough to call this a rant, but I’m increasingly disappointed at the selection of hybrids seed companies enter in state university corn silage hybrid trials. I’m speaking primarily of the several national seed companies which for some reason have decided to enter their some state trials but not others. Maybe it’s the cost of entering the trials, perhaps a philosophical decision made “at the top”, or perhaps something else. And maybe there’s a perfectly good reason for it, but the result is that it’s more difficult than ever to compare, for instance, Pioneer’s top-rated hybrids with those of Dekalb as well as the good regional seed companies entering many of these trials. Can the regional companies compete for silage yield and quality? Sure would be good to know! But increasingly some of these trials are dominated by the regional seed companies. For instance, the 2016 Cornell University silage trials include 29 hybrids each in two locations, but only two Mycogen hybrids and none from Pioneer or Dekalb.

It’s true that there’s not a lot of difference in fiber digestibility among conventional corn hybrids but there sure are differences in maturity and dry matter yield. There’s also a fair amount of difference in starch content and therefore in whole plant digestibility. But as it is now much is left to guesswork and the (often fantastic) claims by seed companies. One more reason to work closely with your seed dealer(s), but these folks are better at evaluating their own company’s hybrids than making comparisons between companies. Which should not surprise you in the least.

Posted by Ev, filed under Uncategorized. Date: December 1, 2016, 11:47 am | No Comments »

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